New research may help patients with intestinal failure, other malabsorptive disorders

May 4, 2010

New treatments for intestinal failure and other intestinal absorption disorders are a step closer to the patients who need them after a discovery in Kelly Tappenden's University of Illinois laboratory.

"There are so few therapies for persons with these illnesses, many of them . Surgery may save a patient's life, but with so much removed, they're unable to digest and absorb nutrients. They have to rely totally on intravenous feeding, which really reduces their quality of life," said Tappenden, a U of I professor of nutrition and gastrointestinal physiology.

Years of research in her lab show that butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, helps intestine grow and become more functional. "To develop effective treatments, though, we needed to understand why butyrate has this effect. Now we understand the mechanism behind it."

According to Tappenden, butyrate increases the creation of . But, beyond that, it fortifies these new cells, preparing them to be more functional by increasing the transcription of a protein called GLUT2 that plays an important role in intestinal function by transporting sugars into the body.

"It's actually a double hit in terms of benefits. Not only does butyrate cause the intestine to grow in size, but it increases the number of functional proteins in the cells that are made. Those cells transport more nutrients, thereby reducing the amount of intravenous nutrients needed by these patients," she said.

Knowing how all this works is really important for strategizing and fine-tuning therapies for intestinal absorption disorders, said Tappenden. "Right now, butyrate is not available in the bags of nutrients used for intravenous feeding. But our research tells us that we should at least be encouraging patients to consume more carbohydrates and dietary fiber because use these nutrients to make butyrate."

To learn more about butyrate's action at the cellular level, Tappenden isolated human cells (Caco2-BBe cells), which behave very much like cells from the small intestine.

"We transfected the promoter portion of the GLUT2 gene in these small intestine-like cells and then exposed them to a variety of short-chain fatty acids—a cocktail of acetate, propionate, and butyrate, as well as each of them individually. Then we watched to see which of them would start manufacturing GLUT2, expecting to see that butyrate alone was responsible," she said.

Sure enough, butyrate alone turned on the promoter responsible for making the GLUT2 intestinal transporter.

"This gives us insight into the cellular mechanisms whereby butyrate could really help people with intestinal failure," she said. "Why? Because it's increasing this important protein that causes the intestine to absorb more nutrients."

The next step is experimenting with administering prebiotics and probiotics to newborn piglets, an excellent model for the human infant because of their similar metabolism and physiology.

The prebiotics contain soluble fiber, the fuel bacteria need to make short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate. Probiotics contain bacteria that reside in the colon and serve an important role in intestinal function and immunity, she said.

The results of the piglet study should be available this summer.

More information: This study was published in the November/December 2009 issue of the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Hibernating ground squirrels provide clues to new stroke treatments

November 17, 2017
In the fight against brain damage caused by stroke, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: hibernating ground squirrels.

Age and gut bacteria contribute to multiple sclerosis disease progression

November 17, 2017
Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School published a study suggesting that gut bacteria at young age can contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) disease onset and progression.

Molecular guardian defends cells, organs against excess cholesterol

November 16, 2017
A team of researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health has illuminated a critical player in cholesterol metabolism that acts as a molecular guardian in cells to help maintain cholesterol levels within a safe, ...

Prototype ear plug sensor could improve monitoring of vital signs

November 16, 2017
Scientists have developed a sensor that fits in the ear, with the aim of monitoring the heart, brain and lungs functions for health and fitness.

Ancient enzyme could boost power of liquid biopsies to detect and profile cancers

November 16, 2017
Scientists are developing a set of medical tests called liquid biopsies that can rapidly detect the presence of cancers, infectious diseases and other conditions from only a small blood sample. Researchers at The University ...

FDA to crack down on risky stem cell offerings

November 16, 2017
U.S. health authorities announced plans Thursday to crack down on doctors pushing stem cell procedures that pose the gravest risks to patients amid an effort to police a burgeoning medical field that previously has received ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.